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You Might See Whales

9 02 2012

On Tuesday, I told you about a walk I took on a short hiking trail at Torrey Pines State Reserve. One of the reasons I kept that visit brief was because I had other plans: I wanted to get out to the Cabrillo National Monument as well.

Statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo.

I have a thing about National Parks. in 2004, when I was driving cross country, I made the decision to make hiking and camping in National Parks the theme of the trip. This was partly because it was an inexpensive theme. Camping = cheaper than hotels, and a National Parks Pass was only $50 at the time, providing unlimited admission to the parks. But I fell in love. The sites themselves are amazing and well-maintained, the visitors centers are good, and the rangers and volunteers are enthusiastic and knowledgeable and informative. While on the trip, I bought a walking stick and proceeded to cover it with medallions from the National Parks I visited.

See?

This isn’t all of them — some didn’t have medallions, especially the smaller sites, but then a couple of years ago I discovered the National Parks Passport. I love collecting things, so this was awesome for me. I don’t have some Ahab quest to get stamps from all of the sites (there are 391-ish, depending on the source), but I do like to collect them anyhow.

Which was why, on Monday, I decided I just had to visit a National Park site while I was out in California. Some day I’m going to do a California National Parks trip, and go to Joshua Tree and Yosemite and Lassen Volcanic and…

Back on topic. Cabrillo National Monument!

The Monument, which was established in 1913 to commemorate the life and explorations of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, is at the tip of Point Loma, just past the naval base (so, a good place to see men in uniform as a bonus). Juan came to the Americas in the early 1500s, and in 1542, he set off from Mexico on an expedition on behalf of Spain to claim land and (surprise!) find a route to the Spice Islands. (Those explorers, so intent on getting spices.) On September 28, 1542, Juan and Company landed in a harbor he described as “a closed and very good port.” This very good port is now San Diego. Thus, the Monument in Juan’s honor.

From the well-staffed visitor’s center — which has a gift shop/information desk, a museum, and a theater, as well as snacks and restrooms — walk up the path to the statue of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. You’ll be treated with a spectacular view of downtown San Diego on one side and the ocean on the other.

After that, walk up the hill towards the Point Loma Lighthouse. You can go inside and see rooms laid out as they would have been when a lighthouse keeper lived here with his (or her! they had female keepers here too) family.

Continue past the lighthouse and up to the Whale Overlook, where, if you’re lucky, you can do some whale watching. I stood there a while and didn’t see anything, but I’ve also had so-so luck on whale-watching trips, so maybe it’s just me.

Then you can loop back down and venture onto the Bayside Trail, which is a 2.5 mile walk descending 300 feet to the beach below. It’s a little steep, but not terrible. I walked on it a little ways, but decided not to do the whole loop because of time.

If you’re looking for something a little different, there’s also an exhibit on old defense systems, and tidepools to visit. Cabrillo is a small site, but the rangers there are as enthusiastic and knowledgeable as anywhere, and you might see whales! It’s worth a visit if you have the time.

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Sometimes you feel like a walk…

7 02 2012

I’ve been out in southern California for the past week, scouting the area as a potential new residence. While much of this time has been spent visiting different parts of San Diego, Orange County, and Los Angeles, driving around, getting the feel of the place, I couldn’t leave without trying out the local hiking. The problem? I found that on my last day in the area, after nearly two weeks of traveling (I was in Austin, TX before this), I was sort of exhausted and not really up for the preparations or the doing of a long, difficult hike.

What I really wanted was a walk in the woods, or something like the woods. I asked around, and four separate people told me to check out Torrey Pines State Reserve for some easy, short hikes with fabulous views. Several others told me to check out Cabrillo National Monument, and I have a thing about National Park Service Sites. So I decided to do both. Today I’ll give you the skinny on Torrey Pines, and on Thursday you’ll get a recap of the visit to Cabrillo.

Torrey Pines is an easy 30-minute drive up the coast from San Diego, just north of La Jolla. The drive itself is pretty, especially once you get off of I-5 onto Carmel Valley Road. You enter through the North Entrance, pay your $10 all-day access fee (or find parking on the beach or on the road, if you can…I didn’t because I wanted to drive up into the park).

I decided on the Guy Fleming Trail, because I had another stop to make. It’s short, only ~2/3 mile, and mostly level, with only some brief climbs and descents, and a few stairways.

The first thing that worked for me about this trail was the views. I was promised fabulous and I indeed got fabulous. Going clockwise around the loop, you’re immediately greeted with a sweeping ocean vista, as the trail runs along the side of a cliff that drops down to the beach below. The waves at Torrey Pines are spectacular, and mesmerizing to watch. I found myself stopping every fifty steps or so to just look out at the water for a while. There are two designated “viewpoints,” but the entirety of the first half of this trail could be considered a viewpoint.

As an added bonus, there was a pod of dolphins just off the coast, so I watched them playing in the waves for a while. Then, I noticed that the birds — whatever kind they were, I didn’t have my binoculars and probably wouldn’t be able to tell anyhow…gulls of some kind? — were surfing. Seriously, they were gliding on the edges of cresting waves, and it looked like they were having fun.

The second half of the trail was inland, so the views were of the town of Del Mar instead of the ocean, but it was still pleasant. There were also some fun sandstone features, and I learned that the trail is named after the man who made Torrey Pines a state reserve in order to save the trees, which are a rare five-needled pine tree.

In all, the hike was nice, if merely a walk. It was perfect for what I wanted, and I could have spent hours just watching the ocean, so I felt like I got my money’s worth both literally and figuratively.

One word of caution: the road leading up to the trail is littered with people jogging and stay-at-home moms walking gigantic baby carriages. Because the road winds, it is hard to see the pedestrians lurking around corners, so please please obey the 15 mph speed limit, and go even slower around those hairpins.